What company leaders and managers can learn from Jurassic Park

We all remember Jurassic Park, the famous film directed by Steven Spielberg in which a group of scientists visit an amusement park with cloned dinosaurs, created by a billionaire philanthropist and a team of geneticists, who escape and put the lives of those in the park at risk. But, beyond the science fiction, I believe that, from an organizational behavior point of view, there are a few lessons from the film that can serve company leaders and managers. This being said, here I share some key lessons that business leaders and managers of today can take away from this film: Caring for your employees’ well-being is important Since the start of the film, it is obvious that John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the owner and manager of the company that owns the park, does not care about the general well-being of his employees, but rather is blinded by his vision for the park. In the first scene, we see that an employee is mauled by a Velociraptor and nobody in the company seems to care enough about it, especially Mr. Hammond. The man is being sued by the deceased employee’s family for 20 million dollars and he doesn’t even bother to meet with his lawyer and discuss the whole problem. Moreover, he fails to provide a secure work environment, risking the lives of his own grandchildren and guests. For a business to be successful, employees must be healthy not only physically but emotionally as well. A healthy and secure work environment contributes to a healthy organization. Some researchers suggest that creating a positive culture for your team can contribute to a healthier and more productive work environment. Therefore, the lesson here is this: company leaders and managers must promote a healthy and secure environment for their employees, which will contribute to more successful organizations as the employees will feel safer, satisfied and more motivated. This can be done by creating a positive workplace culture. Motivating your employees is key In the film, we see that lead computer programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) is not motivated in working anymore at Jurassic Park. Nedry is probably the organization’s most important employee, as he is the person in charge of the park’s security, yet he feels unappreciated and underpaid. Therefore, to find other ways of making money for himself, he starts stealing fertilized dinosaur embryos to sell them to Hammond’s corporate rival. He deactivates the park’s security system –to which only he knew the security codes- to gain access to the embryo storage and steal them. We all know how the rest turned out. Now in my opinion, the demise of Jurassic Park was influenced, in great part, by the lack of motivation of its most important employee. Nedry’s motivation was, in turn, affected by the poor management decisions taken by Hammond who didn’t value his employee’s job. This is clearly evidenced during the scene in which Nedry starts discussing with Hammond about the difficulty of his job and how low he’s paying him to do it. Constantly, studies show that motivation of employees is a fundamental aspect for any organization to be successful. Motivation is defined as the “processes that account for an individual’s intensity, direction and persistence of effort toward attaining a goal”[1], specifically, an organizational goal. To be successful, companies and businesses need people who are willing to give their best for them. They need employees that are motivated to achieve the organization’s goals and contribute to its success. So, the main lesson here is this: company leaders must always seek to motivate their employees to be successful. As Robbins and Judge point out, the “level of motivation varies both between individuals and within individuals at different times”[2] so, company leaders and managers must identify what motivates their employees (bigger salary, recognition, feedback, bonuses). Therefore, it is up to them to learn to identify what motivates his or her employee, especially when they play a major role within the organization, as was the case of Mr. Nedry. Avoid biases and errors when taking decisions According to organizational behavior researchers, managers and company leaders tend to let errors and biases cloud their judgments when taking decisions. There is an extensive list of the most common biases and errors which a person commits but in relation to the film, only two seem pertinent in my opinion, namely: the escalation of commitment and the hindsight bias, which I’ll refer to separately. As stated by Robbins and Judge, the escalation of commitment is the tendency of “staying with a decision even when there is clear evidence it’s wrong”[3]. The authors note that the reason for escalating commitment may vary from an individual to another (e.g. a lot of time and energy in making the decisions), but people always tend to incur in this error “when they view themselves as responsible for the failure”[4]. In other words, even though there is new information that contradicts their path, managers and company leaders continue taking it. This, in turn, has led many organizations to their downfall, as managers continue to commit resources to a lost cause just to prove his or her decision was correct. Throughout the film, it can be noticed that John Hammond relentlessly escalates commitment. Most of the characters in the film constantly try to fight Hammond’s idea for the park, especially when they all learn that only female dinosaurs comprised the park’s exhibits to prevent them from breeding. They generally state that it is unnatural for dinosaurs to live in the same time as humans, and that they will eventually find a way to breed. We all remember Dr. Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) famous quote on nature finding its way. Nevertheless, even after knowing the contrary opinions of the scientists that he hired to greenlight the park, Hammond continues to justify his decision. He still believes that the idea of creating a theme park with live dinosaurs is good business. He seems to have convinced himself that he's taking the right decision and denies to update his knowledge regarding the park in the face of the new information presented by the scientists, a clear sign of the escalation of commitment. Indeed, because of Hammond’s determination to prove his decision was right, the organization suffered greatly. As for the hindsight bias, the authors define it as the “tendency to believe falsely, after the outcome is known, that we’d have accurately predicted it”[5]. The main consequence of this bias is that it prevents people from learning from past mistakes. It lets managers and company leaders believe they are better predictors than they actually are and can make them falsely confident. In the film, Hammond incurs in this bias during a scene where he is talking with paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). While the T-Rex is on the loose and eating everyone, he says to her that he knows how he could have maintained control, but Dr. Sattler tells him, and I quote “You never had control. That’s the illusion”. Indeed, Hammond believed that, after all was lost, he could’ve predicted and prevented that outcome, thus, incurring in hindsight bias. That being said, the lesson to take away here is this: company leaders and managers must avoid committing errors and biases that will cloud their judgment when taking important decisions that can affect the organization as a whole. It is without a doubt better for them to be clear-minded during the decision-making process. Three key lessons Even if it goes without saying, it is obvious that the purpose of the film was to entertain and not reflect Mr. Hammond's mismanagement, which is why the character acted that way. However, I think the film can serve as a good reference for leaders and managers of today on what not to do or how not to run a company. In sum, there are three lessons that company managers and leaders can learn or take into account, namely: (a) ensure the well-being of employees (physical and emotional); (b) learn to correctly identify what motivates employees in particular and, consequently, use it to your advantage to keep them satisfied and motivated; (c) avoid letting errors and biases cloud you when making decisions that are of extreme interest to the company. Juan Andres Miralles is a lawyer from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Caracas, Venezuela), currently pursuing his Master's Degree in Business Administration at Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración (IESA). He works in private legal practice and is co-editor of The Explorer. You can find him on Linkedin at Juan Andres Miralles Quintero and on Twitter at @JuanMiralles96. [1] Stephen P. Robbins and Timothy A. Judge: Organizational Behavior. (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Prentice Hall, 2009), 202.
[2] Robbins and Judge: Organizational behavior, 202.
[3] Robbins and Judge: Organizational behavior, 180.
[4] Robbins and Judge: Organizational behavior, 180.
[5] Robbins and Judge: Organizational behavior, 181.